Much like its language, Malta is a mixture of Italian and Arab elements. With its Turkish design balconies, green kiosks, castles and multiple bays, this country in the middle of the Mediterranean is going to take you by surprise.
We flew to Valletta with a direct flight from Aberdeen Airport hoping to escape the moody, Scottish weather and get our annual dose of sea, sunshine and gelato!
With not much planned, we went straight down Sliema port and took the ferry ride tour around Valletta and The Three Cities – one of the BEST things we did during this trip if you ask me.
Not only it was the best welcome to the island, but it also gave us a good idea of which parts we wanted to visit in the upcoming days.
Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla) and Bormla (Cospicua) – the three medieval fortified cities in the north of Malta, founded by the Knights of the Order of Saint John in the 16th and 17th centuries, are some of the most visited attractions in the island. The area, also known as Cottonera, suffered terribly during the WW2, so it is not rare to see architectural inconsistency between buildings in the same street.
Right across Grand Harbour lies Birgu, the oldest of the Three Cities. It existed well before the arrival of the Knights and with its historical and cultural wealth it is the most popular place to meander around its streets and stop by for some coffee and Maltese pies. Birgu was the Knights capital -on their arrival in 1530 they re-purporsed and renovated the old fortress Castrum Maris to Fort St. Angelo. They also build new fortifications to protect the city and countless new warehouses and palaces. Here in Birgu is also the setting of one of The Da Vinci code scenes – anyone remembers the Roman soldiers on horseback passing over a bridge?
Senglea is actually a peninsula stretching out in the Grand Harbour and it is Malta’s tiniest town, and the most densely populated with around 3,500 citizens. Potentially, the most popular thing to do in this city is to visit Gnien il-Gardjola (The look-out garden) at the edge of Senglea Point, giving you a magnificent view of Valletta and the Grand Harbour.
Bormla, offers six kilometres of fortifications is home to Our Lady of Victories, one of the most impressive churches in Malta.)
Valletta, separated by a stretch of open sea from The Three Cities, is a very inviting place, even more so in the golden hour when the cluster of buildings on the front of the port sparkles in golden reflections.
The beauty of Valletta lies in its crowded, lively squares, colourful doors with flowers cascading from the balconies above, cobbled streets and the insanely gorgeous views of the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Everything here is on a tiny scale. Malta in itself is a small country so it didn’t surprise us that one building almost felt like it was on top of the other.
Architects employed masonry support to the balconies by inserting a row of stone or metal brackets. In the case of Valletta, richly decorated balconies also served another purpose. One of the building regulations established by the Knights mentioned that buildings had to display some form of sculptural ornamentation at the corners which were either niches with religious images, monumental pilaster and cornices that complimented the architectural style of the elevations or balconies that wrapped themselves around the block.
With a camera full of images and our skin fully satisfied of all the newly acquired Vitamin C, we headed back to St Julians for some dinner. We found that Valletta lacked in restaurants, or at least we didn’t find what we were looking for, so we opted for St Julians Bay with its abundance of Italian, Greek and Maltese restaurants.
The ferry tour around Valletta and The Three Cities cost us around 20 euros, both ways which was totally worth it considering it was an hourly ride with stops along the way and a lovely tour guide narrating us the history of its place. The ferry taxi back to Sliema from Valletta was a 5′ ride and cost us 1.50 euros one way, each. Considering that riding a boat is the quickest and most pleasant way to navigate your way around the island, we loved walking down the port every morning to take our ferry ride and go to the city.
And in case you would like to see a bit more of the ferry ride around Valletta, here is my travel vlog from Malta::